On Feb. 2, 2014, the Seattle Seahawks defeat the Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII, giving the team its first National Football League championship.
The game pits Denver’s record-setting offense against Seattle’s top-ranked defense, with Denver considered a slight favorite. Instead, the game is a rout, with the Seahawks scoring the game’s first 36 points and becoming the youngest team ever to win the Lombardi Trophy. The one-sided victory triggers celebrations throughout Seattle.
Unusual Site, Epic Matchup
Super Bowl XLVIII was played in East Rutherford, New Jersey, in MetLife Stadium, the shared home field of the New York Giants and New York Jets. It was the first Super Bowl to be held in a northern city in an open-air stadium. Early weather forecasts predicted heavy snow and sub-freezing temperatures, causing worries that the game might be postponed. Those worries proved unfounded, however. Weather was not a factor, although a snowstorm did hit the New York City area the next day.
The Denver-Seattle matchup provided interesting story lines. The Broncos led the league in offense, with record-setting totals of points and yards gained. Their quarterback, Peyton Manning, had set league records for most passing yards and most passing touchdowns, and their per-game average of 37.9 points was the most by any team since 1950. The Seahawks led the NFL in defense, posting league bests in fewest points allowed, fewest yards allowed, and most turnovers, making them the first team to sweep those three categories since 1985.
Besides having Manning, Denver was the first team ever to have five players with 60 or more catches. The Seahawks could counter with the so-called Legion of Boom, a deep set of pass defenders led by young stars Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor, all Pro Bowl selections. Sherman led the league with eight interceptions, and the Seahawks collectively had an NFL-best 28.
Comparisons inevitably included Seattle’s relative youth and inexperience. With an average age of 26.4, the Seahawks were the second-youngest team to reach the Super Bowl and the first since 1990 to do so without any players who had been there before. Their quarterback, Russell Wilson, was off to a record-setting career and already had established himself as the most efficient passer in team history, but he had only two seasons under his belt. Manning, on the other hand, had just been selected the league’s Most Valuable Player for the fifth time. At 6-feet-5, he was six inches taller than Wilson. At 37, he was 12 years older — in fact, five years older than any Seahawk — but playing better than he ever had.
The disparity between Denver’s average points scored (37.9) and Seattle’s average points allowed (14.4) was by far the greatest in Super Bowl history. Most observers predicted a close score in the low 20s. Odds makers gave a slight edge to Denver.
The 12th Man
Not buying that prediction was Seattle’s 12th Man, the name given to its rabid fan base. Former Seahawks coach Chuck Knox had used that phrase in 1983 when Seattle fans were making the Kingdome the league’s loudest stadium. The team began promoting the fan connection after the Seahawks moved into Seahawks Stadium (soon renamed Qwest Field before becoming CenturyLink Field in 2011). Starting in 2003, there was a ceremonial 12th Man flag-raising to frenzied cheering before each home game, and the player leading the team’s charge onto the field would run out carrying a 12th Man flag.
The 12th Man, or Twelves as they came to be called, reached new levels of enthusiasm during Seattle’s record-breaking 2013 season and playoff run. Already known as the league’s loudest fans, they twice set Guinness Book of World Records marks for loudest stadium, topping out at 137.6 decibels. Every home game was a sellout, with crowds growing to larger than 68,300. Twelves also traveled to away games in unprecedented numbers. Their support was noted gratefully and repeatedly by head coach Pete Carroll and his players.
During the weeks leading up to playoff victories against New Orleans and San Francisco and continuing to the Super Bowl, fan enthusiasm grew to new heights. Number 12 flags flew from the Space Needle, Starbucks headquarters, construction cranes, and houses and offices all over the city. On Microsoft’s Redmond campus, about 7,000 employees assembled outside wearing blue and white clothes to create a giant 12. Boeing had a jet painted with the Seahawk logo. Even buildings got into the act. At night, the new 26-story Wave apartment building just north of the stadium used its interior lights to create two 10-story 12s. The 42-story Russell Investments Center in downtown Seattle coordinated its office lights to produce an illuminated 12 that was 18 floors high and easily visible from West Seattle. Within two miles of CenturyLink Field, there were 20 billboards saluting the Seahawks and their fans.
A 25-by-35-feet 12th Man flag that had topped the Space Needle during previous playoff runs was signed by hundreds of fans at a Seattle Center rally, flown to New Jersey, and taken to Super Bowl Week functions, attracting hordes of Seahawk fans assembling for the big game. The team, with a surprising number of its fans, had recently been in MetLife Stadium and faced a quarterback named Manning. On Dec. 15, 2013, the Seahawks were there to play the New York Giants and Eli Manning, Peyton’s younger brother. Seattle won 23-0, intercepting Eli five times and not allowing the Giants to cross midfield until the fourth quarter. That dominating performance was a preview of things to come.
A Quick Seahawks Onslaught
The championship game started like no other Super Bowl had. On Denver’s first play, the center hiked the ball before Manning was ready and it went sailing over the quarterback’s shoulder and into the end zone. Running back Knowshon Moreno flopped onto the loose ball and was tackled by Cliff Avril for a safety and 2-0 Seattle lead. The center and Manning later attributed the blunder to the crowd noise, an indication that the 12th Man was present in loud numbers. Coincidentally, the scoreboard clock showed that the safety came 12 seconds into the game.
Denver punted to Seattle, and the Seahawks moved the ball into field-goal range for Steven Hauschka, who kicked a 33-yarder that extended the lead to 5-0. The Broncos were forced to punt on their next possession, and the Seahawks drove to another Hauschka field goal, making the score 8-0. On Denver’s next play, Chancellor intercepted a Manning pass, and Seattle was on the move again. The Seahawks drove 37 yards, scoring on a one-yard touchdown by Marshawn Lynch. The score was 15-0 early in the second quarter, and Denver’s historically potent offense had yet to gain a first down.
The Broncos finally managed to move the ball on their next possession, but the drive ended when Avril hit Manning’s arm as he released a pass. The ball fluttered to linebacker Malcolm Smith, who ran it back 69 yards for a touchdown. That pushed Seattle’s lead, shockingly, to 22-0.
Finishing the Job
“Given the respect with which Manning was held, it seemed too early to declare victory, but it was over after the first few series,” Sports Press Northwest columnist Art Thiel wrote after the game, adding “Fans, viewers and advertisers who settled in for the drama the Super Bowl produced in recent seasons were left instead to ponder the immensity between the Seahawks and the rest of the NFL.”
The Broncos could be expected to regroup in the third quarter, but they didn’t get the chance. Seattle’s Percy Harvin took the second-half kickoff and looked every bit like the fastest man on the field. He raced 87 yards for a touchdown. An electrifying receiver and kick returner, Harvin had been acquired by trade the previous spring from the Minnesota Vikings. He cost the Seahawks three draft choices, including a first-rounder in 2013, and his Seattle contract was potentially worth $67 million, but preseason hip surgery and injuries had limited his playing time to short stints in two games until the Super Bowl. His touchdown, coming 12 seconds into the second half, essentially finished the Broncos.
Denver’s next two possessions ended in a punt and a fumble. The Seahawks responded with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Jermaine Kearse, who twice spun away from would-be tacklers to reach the end zone. Seahawks 36, Denver 0. The 36 consecutive points broke the old Super Bowl record by 12.
The Seahawks then loosened their pass coverage a bit, willing to let Manning complete short passes while using up precious minutes. The Broncos’ first, and only, points came at the end of the third quarter, on a 14-yard Manning pass to DeMaryius Thomas and the ensuing 2-point conversion. Struggling vainly to catch up, Manning was able to set Super Bowl records for most pass completions (34) and most passing yards (280), but they could hardly have been less relevant, given the game’s outcome.
A final Seahawks touchdown — a 10-yard pass from Wilson to Doug Baldwin — came early in the fourth quarter and ended the scoring at 43-8. The Seattle defense thwarted three more Denver possessions, one ending in a fumble, before time ran out. The Seahawks’ victory margin was the third-biggest in Super Bowl history, and it was seen by the largest TV audience — 111.5 million.
Accolades for the Defense
Commentators were stunned — not by the victory, but by its decisiveness. Kent Babb of the Washington Post wrote, “The Seattle Seahawks didn’t just pressure Denver quarterback Peyton Manning. They seemed to scare him. They didn’t just shut down running back Knowshon Moreno. They made him a non-factor. And they didn’t just win Seattle’s first Super Bowl, 43-8 ... They made a case to be considered among the best defenses of all time.”
“The outcome Sunday was so unambiguous, so glaringly, in-your-face decisive, that it not-so-subtly altered the plotline of the entire Super Bowl buildup,” wrote Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone. “All week, the game was billed as a referendum on Peyton Manning’s legacy. Instead, it turned into a mandate on the historic nature of Seattle’s defense.”
In a departure from the usual practice of picking a quarterback or running back as the game’s most valuable player, attending media members picked Smith, who recovered a fumble and had nine tackles to go along with his long interception return for a touchdown. Smith was essentially a utility linebacker during the season, mostly playing when other linebackers were injured, but always playing well. The 24-year-old was representative of the Seahawks in general — young and loaded with previously unappreciated talent.
Smith, who had played for Carroll at the University of Southern California, was taken in the final round of the 2011 draft, after 241 other players. Baldwin and Kearse, Seattle’s touchdown-scoring receivers, had not even been drafted coming out of college; they signed with the Seahawks as rookie free agents. The presence of these players and others on the Seahawks’ roster underscored the ability of Carroll and general manager John Schneider to see potential where others did not and use it to best advantage.
Celebrating on Stage, and at Home
On a stage erected on the field after the game, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell presented the Vince Lombardi Trophy, emblematic of the league championship, to Seahawks owner Paul Allen, who hoisted it high while Seattle fans cheered. It was the city’s first professional sports championship since the Seattle Storm won its second Women’s National Basketball Association title in 2010 and the first by a men’s team since the NBA’s Sonics in 1979.
“We’ve been relentless all season,” Wilson said. “ ... you want to play your best football and that is what we did today.”
Carroll, who called his team amazing, said, “Everyone knows we are taking this trophy back to the 12th Man.”
Fireworks exploded from the top of the Space Needle when the game ended, and fans ran out of bars and homes to share the excitement. There was a massive spontaneous celebration in Pioneer Square, along with others on Capitol Hill and on Greek Row near the University of Washington where a victory bonfire was fueled with sofas and other furniture. Two men were shot and wounded near Pioneer Square, although police could not say whether the shootings were Super Bowl-related. At least two people were arrested for throwing bottles at police. People climbing on Pioneer Square’s historic pergola caused about $25,000 damage to the structure, according to a Seattle Parks and Recreation spokeswoman. The next day a Seattle woman organized an online fund-raising campaign to pay for the damage.
Seattle’s players and fans would meet again for a parade on Feb. 5, 2013. Besides exulting in having won the Lombardi Trophy, they could savor the team’s prospects. The Seahawks were the youngest team ever to win the Super Bowl. They already were talking about playing in another one.